Yes, that’s a really bad Sound of Music reference, but that’s how I roll. Shoot me.
Today’s post is just about some of the wonderful places I’ve been lucky enough to visit in the last few years. The difficult thing when trying to decide where to go is the compromise between expensive flights and cheap living, or cheap flights and expensive living. The former would take me back to Vietnam, which I absolutely adored when I went there five years ago, or maybe back to India (which I HATED when I was there but for some reason want to return to). The latter usually means travelling to somewhere in Europe, and trying to make it as cheap as possible once I’m there, such as staying in an apartment instead of a hotel so that you can cook dinner and prepare packed lunches, or have a drink at home before going out.
My favourite destination in Europe in recent years was hands down Lisbon. I had never even contemplated going there until a stranger online raved about it to the point where I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. I am SO glad I went, it truly was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. My boyfriend and I rented a lovely apartment in the Bairro Alto area, which was the ideal placement to walk anywhere in central Lisbon. We spent a week walking the cobbled streets, exploring medieval castles, going on day trips to monasteries, eating pasteis, drinking lots of beer and prosecco and generally having an amazing time.
Such a friendly city, with breathtaking architecture and great bakeries.
I’ve already mentioned Vietnam, which was only one of our many destinations when my sister and I did a compressed round-the-world trip after I graduated from university. Our route was India-Vietnam-Australia-New Zealand-San Francisco. As I said, I hated India at the time because of the sheer assault on the senses that it is – the smells, the noise, the utter cultural shock that greets you as a Westerner (and a woman). Maybe that’s why we both absolutely loved Vietnam when we arrived there, as it was so refreshing to see women out and about, working in shops, restaurants etc – in India the women weren’t seen in public, so we felt a bit like the odd ones out.
Crossing a street full of traffic is an interesting experience in Vietnam. Waiting for cars to stop for you would take forever and a day, so what you do is just walk slowly into the road, keeping eye contact with drivers, and they will carefully swerve around you. It’s quite a sight, as they never actually slow down, but they have complete control of where they’re going. Really cool.
Hoi An was another cracker of a city. It’s known for its fabrics and tailors where you can have a whole suit made to measure for pennies, but we eschewed all that for cooking lessons, walks in the rain and a cycle trip to the beach where we had amazing noodles on a sun lounger. Completely dreamy.
We also visited the usual stops on a Vietnam tour – Ha Long Bay, the historical royal city of Hue (where I remember having an amazing dish of prawns and pancake called Banh khoai), Nha Trang (which was as close as Vietnam got to a resort) and Da Lat, where we were introduced to the wonders of “Easy Riders” (of which a quick Google tells me there are many) – motorcyclists who drive tourists round the local area (or further afield) on the back of their bikes for a day or longer. In our case, longer turned out to be four days. Our bums were rather sore. But we got to visit little villages out of the way, eat authentic Vietnamese food (I still to this day wonder if we were fed dog at any point) and see some breath-taking scenery along the south of the country.
I hear that Vietnam is turning into a bit of a Thailand-style mega-tourist mecca now. I’m glad I got to go before that happened, as I’m not sure I’d want to go back and “ruin” the amazing time I had there. I quite fancy visiting Burma now that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and it’s more socially acceptable to visit.
Phew! That got a bit wordy. Next time – the motherland!